A Look at Ranked Choice Voting and The Power of Your Vote

By Amy Jeanroy

When someone is elected by less than the majority vote, are they really the winner? 

In nine of the last eleven elections for Maine’s Governor, the candidate was elected with less than the majority vote. In five of those races, the candidate who won received less than 40 percent of the votes, meaning that 60 percent of the voters had voted for someone else. On that list of non majority winners are two Democrats, two Republicans, and two Independents. 

“We see that as a problem” says Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting.  “We live in a representative Democracy. We elect people to represent us and go to Augusta and Washington and make decisions on our behalf.”

When someone can get elected with 35 percent of the vote, is that person representative of the will of the majority of the people? Are they accountable to the will of the people or are they more likely to be representative and accountable to that 35 percent? 

The first Ranked Choice voting bill was introduced in the legislature in 2001. By then, there had been a number of Governors who had been elected without a majority vote. The real energy began in 2008 when the League of Women Voters became involved. They launched a three year study of potential election reforms and looked at different types of elections, such as California’s Top 2 or Jungle Primaries, some southern states Runoff Elections, and Ranked Choice Voting.

Ranked Choice voting, or RCV,  is designed to restore majority rule, meaning the candidate who wins is elected more broadly by the people of Maine, eliminating the need for strategic voting which happens with more than two candidates. You as a voter know that your vote will count. 

Studies of ranked choice voting show that it also reduces negative campaigning. With ranked choice, a candidate now knows that he or she has to appeal not only to their base, but also to a wider range of voters in order to have them vote for the candidate as the second choice. 

Ranked Choice voting means your vote will never go toward a candidate you do not like. The way it works is with a new ballot design, a voter will choose their first, second, and third choice. As the votes are tallied, the candidate that has the majority of the votes (50% plus 1) automatically wins. If no candidate has the majority of the votes, then the ranking takes place and the candidate with the least amount of votes drops out and his or her votes are divided between the other two candidates, since the remaining candidates are the second choice on those ballots. 

Some states have actual runoff elections if no candidate has the majority. This imposes  significant financial and administrative burden to the state and the city and towns to reopen the polls. Results have shown an average of 35% reduction in voter participation in the runoff voting process. It also disenfranchises overseas military and civilian voters who won’t have time to recast their vote, and it extends the campaign season and delays results by a month. 

An argument against RCV is that it is too costly to change. It will cost Maine about $500,000 to make the change. Another argument is that it is too difficult for voters to figure out how to use the new ballot to choose their first, second and third choice, and finally there are some who say that it is going against the Constitution saying that it is not following one person-one vote. This is untrue since every voterers vote will count only one time during a RCV. 

“This isn’t going a silver bullet for fixing the long list of things that frustrate voters about politics” says Bailey, “but it is designed to fix a few things like majority rule, vote splitting, more power to the voters and improve civility. It is something we can do now.” 

FMI: http://www.fairvote.org, and http://www.rcvmaine.com 


What do you think? Do you support ranked choice voting, or do you have questions? email editorcalais@gmail.com with your comments.